Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan met Pope Francis on Monday while police enforced a ban on protests in central Rome, with feelings running high over Turkey’s offensive against Kurdish militia inside Syria, Agence France-Presse reported.
During the 50-minute audience Pope Francis gave Erdoğan a medallion embossed with an angel strangling a “demon of war” — a symbol of peace and justice.
For the first visit by a Turkish leader in 59 years, Italian authorities imposed a 24-hour ban on demonstrations, covering Erdoğan’s arrival from late Sunday to his departure on Monday evening.
Erdoğan’s convoy arrived at a deserted Saint Peter’s Square, which was under heavy security, with 3,500 police officers deployed for the visit.
Nevertheless a small sit-in protest by some 30 people, organized by a Kurdish association in Italy, took place on Monday not far from the Vatican.
Turkey on Jan. 20 launched Operation Olive Branch against Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) militia, which Ankara sees as the Syrian extension of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party and a threat to Turkish territory.
The Turkish army and allied Ankara-backed Syrian rebel forces are seeking to oust the YPG from its western border stronghold of Afrin, but the operation has faced fierce resistance.
“In Afrin, a new crime against humanity is under way,” the Kurdish association said.
The YPG, while considered a “terrorist” group by Ankara, is allied to the United States in its battle against Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) jihadists.
The pope, who has railed against the horrors of war and weapons of mass destruction, gave Erdoğan the gift of a medallion with “an angel of peace strangling the demon of war.”
“It’s a symbol of a world based on peace and justice,” the pontiff said, according to two journalists present during the meeting.
Erdoğan for his part was expected to thank the pope for opposing the decision by US President Donald Trump to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.
“We are both in favor of the status quo, and we have the will to protect it,” Erdoğan said in an interview published Sunday.